Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Green, Earnhardt take top two spots at Daytona

The Indianapolis Star

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The Dale Earnhardt influence was felt in a big way Monday at Daytona International Speedway. The team Earnhardt served as driver and the team he served as owner combined to post five of the top six speeds in rain-delayed qualifying for Sunday's 45th Daytona 500.

Richard Childress Racing upstaged Dale Earnhardt Inc. when Jeff Green followed Dale Earnhardt Jr. onto the track and bumped him off the pole with a fast lap of 186.606 mph around the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

Soon after, RCR driver Robby Gordon bumped DEI's Michael Waltrip from third to fourth. The very next car out, a third RCR entry driven by Kevin Harvick, slid into the sixth spot.

"Dale, he was the man here for many, many years. We just gave him a car," owner Richard Childress said of his partner and friend, who won the Daytona 500 in 1998 and was killed in this event three years later.

Earnhardt Jr. and Waltrip have combined to win six of the last eight races at Daytona and Talladega, Ala., where NASCAR mandates carburetor restrictor plates to hold the speeds in check. They were briefly on the front row together after Earnhardt Jr. ran a 186.382 mph lap to bump his teammate to the outside. But Green was the next man out.

"It's kind of bittersweet to lose the pole, but we have got so much to be proud of," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We didn't expect to run as well as we did, so we didn't get too carried away."

It made it easier that he lost to his dad's former team.

"My father had a big impact on their success," he said. "His efforts and his success are still felt around there. They take a lot of pride in their cars."

Only Green and Earnhardt Jr. have locked in their starting spots for Sunday's race. The bulk of the field will be set Thursday in the Twin 125-qualifying races, which line up based on the speeds from Monday.

Green will start on the pole in the first race with the odd-numbered qualifiers behind him. Earnhardt will lead the even-numbered qualifiers to the green flag in the second race.

The results of those two events determine positions 3-30 in the 43-car field. Of the remaining cars, the six with the fastest qualifying speeds get into the field. The last seven spots are provisionals based on the 2002 owners' points standings.

Green doesn't have to worry about any of that. Not that he was too worried anyway with a car he knew was fast.

"I really kind of expected it, although a lot of people looked at me like I had four eyes when I said that," said Green, who was the original DEI driver when Earnhardt launched his team in the NASCAR Busch Series in 1995. "(Sunday) in the rain was the longest day of my life because I know how good a car we had."

Qualifying was rained out Sunday and was an hour late getting started Monday after more showers. But the rain moved on and the cars went out under blue skies.

Green said this pole, the second of his Winston Cup career, counts for more than winning a Busch Series championship in 2000. But a bigger prize is still out there.

"It's a driver's dream to come down to Daytona and be the fastest car here," he said. "Hopefully, we can turn that into being the fastest car Sunday."

Only veteran Ricky Rudd, in his first race with the legendary Wood Brothers, broke up the RCR-DEI Chevrolet juggernaut as the fifth-fastest qualifier. He and Dale Jarrett (seventh) had the only Fords in the top 10. Bobby Labonte was eighth in a Chevy, followed by the Dodges of Sterling Marlin and Kyle Petty.

Tony Stewart's bad luck at Daytona continued when his engine dropped a valve just as he was beginning his run. An engine failure knocked Stewart out of last year's Daytona 500 after just two laps, and wrecks seem to catch him when mechanical failures don't.

"If that's the worst thing that happens to us, we'll be all right this year," the reigning Winston Cup champion said. "It's not the way we wanted to start off. Last year we started off great and finished up bad, so maybe we're starting off bad and we're going to finish up good.

"I hate this qualifying stuff. I like the racing a lot better. This will be fun -- coming from the back."

Daytona 500 Qualifying

Lap length: 2.5 miles

(Only the first two positions are locked for the Daytona 500. The remaining positions will be determined by the Gatorade 125 Qualifier Races on Thursday and timed qualifying)

1. (30) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, 186.606 mph.

2. (8) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 186.382.

3. (31) Robby Gordon, Chevrolet, 185.927.

4. (15) Michael Waltrip, Chevrolet, 185.460.

5. (21) Ricky Rudd, Ford, 185.372.

6. (29) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 185.063.

7. (88) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 184.957.

8. (18) Bobby Labonte, Chevrolet, 184.942.

9. (40) Sterling Marlin, Dodge, 184.710.

10. (45) Kyle Petty, Dodge, 184.668.

11. (42) Jamie McMurray, Dodge, 184.502.

12. (9) Bill Elliott, Dodge, 184.438.

13. (25) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet, 184.385.

14. (6) Mark Martin, Ford, 184.373.

15. (32) Ricky Craven, Pontiac, 184.362.

16. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 184.320.

17. (1) Steve Park, Chevrolet, 184.320.

18. (19) Jeremy Mayfield, Dodge, 184.313.

19. (22) Ward Burton, Dodge, 184.268.

20. (38) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 184.230.

21. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 184.117.

22. (74) Tony Raines, Chevrolet, 184.026.

23. (41) Casey Mears, Dodge, 183.978.

24. (33) Christian Fittipaldi, Chevrolet, 183.914.

25. (17) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 183.614.

26. (09) Mike Wallace, Dodge, 183.516.

27. (23) Kenny Wallace, Dodge, 183.490.

28. (0) Jack Sprague, Pontiac, 183.400.

29. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 183.221.

30. (97) Kurt Busch, Ford, 183.094.

31. (10) Johnny Benson, Pontiac, 183.005.

32. (12) Ryan Newman, Dodge, 183.001.

33. (14) Larry Foyt, Dodge, 182.979.

34. (01) Jerry Nadeau, Pontiac, 182.908.

35. (7) Jimmy Spencer, Dodge, 182.841.

36. (43) John Andretti, Dodge, 182.815.

37. (5) Terry Labonte, Chevrolet, 182.682.

38. (54) Todd Bodine, Ford, 182.656.

39. (60) David Green, Chevrolet, 182.408.

40. (49) Ken Schrader, Dodge, 182.363.

41. (11) Brett Bodine, Ford, 182.267.

42. (2) Rusty Wallace, Dodge, 182.171.

43. (4) Mike Skinner, Pontiac, 182.035.

44. (77) Dave Blaney, Ford, 181.668.

45. (99) Jeff Burton, Ford, 181.360.

46. (02) Hermie Sadler, Pontiac, 181.127.

47. (37) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 180.668.

48. (90) Kirk Shelmerdine, Ford, 179.083.

49. (78) Mike Harmon, Chevrolet, 177.368.

50. (20) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, No Time.

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